Open Garden Squares Weekend – June 9th-10th 2012

The Old, the Very Old and the New

By Catherine Miller

On Saturday 9 June, I took a long tube journey out to Upney to visit two gardens in Barking.

(Click on a garden name for further information. Click on a photo to enlarge.)

Eastbury Manor Walking through streets of this suburban area, I found Eastbury Manor. This is a grade I Elizabethan manor with a garden featuring original 400-year-old brick walls incorporating bee boles (spaces where beehives would have gone), herbs and roses, and plants in patriotic containers for sale. The National Trust owns and manages this property as a historical resource for everyone, and there were many visitors.
Valence House It was an easy bus ride on the 368 to Valence House, which boasts a Dig For Victory garden complete with Nissen air raid shelter. There were friendly Essex beekeepers and local volunteers on hand to talk about the gardens, and I came away with honey and orange marmalade and handmade cards. I noticed a primitive sculpture in the garden by the house and, when I took a look inside the house, which dates back to the fifteenth century, I came across the original model for the sculpture – an amazing wooden figure which had been dug up nearby in the Dagenham marshes in 1922. The Dagenham Idol has been dated to 2750 BC. It is one of the earliest known carvings of a human figure to be found in Europe and was apparently buried to increase the fertility of the land. From the evidence of the flourishing garden, it seems to have done the trick.

From the tube on the journey back into central London, you can see the Mittal Tower, which has quickly taken shape on the Olympic site.
  On the Sunday I set off up the hill to Waterlow Park's kitchen garden. This is a good example of how raised beds for growing fruit and vegetables can be successfully incorporated into a public park. Each bed is worked by a local school or community group and there is public access to the whole site. It is enclosed by hedges and has a relaxing and peaceful feel to it. Waterlow is a gorgeous park with a wonderful view over London, and easy access to village pubs and longer walks across the heath and Highgate cemetery.

I spoke to local volunteers, who reported many visitors from the OGSW scheme (13 already by 11am on Sunday) and that they themselves had taken the opportunity to be tourists in their own city and visit gardens in unfamiliar parts of town.
Growing Garden Project at Deen City Farm I went by bike to Dalston Eastern Curve, as the traffic was not too bad on Sunday. This is a quirky, creative garden reflecting its very urban surroundings. Resourceful people have made an interesting garden, involving the local schools. They have made use of 'free stuff' including compost, which is delivered in a big pile from Edmonton. There are flowers, fruit and plants growing everywhere and a local graffiti artist, Stik, has helped to decorate it. An amusing mini-garden with guardsman is a nod to the Jubilee.
Zander Court I cycled to Zander Court, a neighbourhood garden brightening up the middle of a social housing estate, and at their busy plant sale I got two nice tough little Mexican daisy plants.
Spitalfields City Farm It was a short cycle to Spitalfields City Farm, which was a hive of gardening activity. At the entrance there are giant thistles and wildflower plantings, then you come to Bangladeshi vegetable plants grown in polytunnels. A new area is being developed as a spiral garden with water feature, where there is more of the distinctive Stik graffiti. The whole place has a nice social atmosphere.
Arnold Circus From busy Brick Lane it was a short cycle to Arnold Circus which has been redeveloped, with a profusion of unmunicipal new planting of grasses and ferns interspersed with colourful perennials such as geraniums and geums. It was really interesting to learn about its history as a Victorian social housing estate, and its recent improvements from the gardener on site. I noticed an unusual Green Man looking over the garden, Karl Marx!
Eccleston Square Finally, I parked the bike at Highbury and took the Victoria line to Eccleston Square (P8). Just a couple of minutes from Victoria Coach Station is a glorious garden for people who like plants. Exuberant roses climb over trees and there are beautiful plant combinations everywhere. There are classic herbaceous plants such as delphiniums, as well as plants new to me, such as climbing scarlet clianthus. There are giant echiums, dragon lilies and monkshood, fabulously scented dark roses, and a greenhouse full of unusual plants. In the garden's literature I recognised the name of Roger Phillips from my gardening books. The plant photographer lives nearby and has been influential in the planting. The trees include cercis, liriodendron, planes and maples, and there are tea tree bushes and witch hazel. Neville Capil, the Square's New Zealand gardener, was answering questions from visitors.
'Do the roses damage the trees?': 'Yes, they can bring a tree down'.
'What can you do about it?': 'You just have to plant stronger trees!'
This garden would be attractive at any time of year and is a real pleasure to explore.

In this busy year, the Open Garden Squares Weekend certainly provided a wonderful celebration for the varied parks and gardens of London. Over the weekend, I saw the old, the very old and the new. I am already looking forward to OGSW 2013.

Catherine Miller is the London, Development Officer for the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (FCFCG). Information about the work of the FCFCG is available at